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Collaboration Isn't About Technology But…

Posted by on August 29, 2012

I’ve received a few responses to some articles I have written over the past few weeks which all say things like “collaboration isn’t about technology it’s about culture.”  I understand that very well and those of you that know me may recall that I’m a staunch believer in that idea.  However, what we need to realize is that the type of collaboration we are seeing today is about both people AND technology.  Sure, if you want to collaborate with some of your co-workers who happen to be 10 feet away from you that’s fine.  But when we start talking about collaboration across barriers such as geographies and/or departments (or in the case of virtual teams) then this simply cannot happen with supporting technologies which enable the employees.  At the same time though, the technologies are completely useless without a collaborative corporate culture.

So, while I completely understand that collaboration isn’t just about technology, collaboration is also not possible to the extent it is today without technology.  If global companies didn’t have technologies such as web conferencing solutions, enterprise social networks, messaging solutions such as Skype, and dare I say…email, then no communication or collaboration would ever happen across boundaries.  I always believed that ultimately the success of collaboration depends on people, however the technologies and tools we have today are what enable those people.

I’ve seen several examples of how technology has actually helped influence corporate culture to become more collaborative.  People understand things better when they seem them and experience them.  So you can talk about collaboration all you want and you can try to describe enterprise social networks until your face turns blue, but when employees can actually use something and experience the value of it for themselves then that helps change their behaviors and in turn culture .  I’m not saying that all you need is technology to create a collaborative culture, I’m saying that technology can be a factor that helps.

It’s not about what is more valuable; technology or culture/people, it’s about being able to create a supportive corporate culture which provides the necessary tools to enable employees to collaborate and communicate more effectively.  It’s kind of like the chicken and egg problem, do you focus on corporate culture first or technology?  You do both in parallel because they help and impact each other in a greater way than they do separately.  In this scenario 1+1=3.

  • Definitely agree that both culture and technology are at play in building a collaborative environment. While technology alone cannot establish the collaborative culture, if it does not support real collaboration, it can become a huge obstacle to collaboration. It is this belief that inspired our collaboration and resource management solution,

  • Dennis McDonald

    Excellent observations, especially the technology-enables-collaboration and collaboration-isn’t-technology views. In my own consulting I’ve also seen the necessity of leadership, especially when the collaboration is targeting improvements in how projects are managed.